Saturday, October 31, 2009
Haunted Quaboag - Fact or Fiction?
The celebration of Halloween and tales of haunting seem to go hand- in-hand. Whether you believe in restless spirits or alternate dimensions, lingering legends perpetuated over the years oftentimes stemmed from brutal acts or major calamitous events that normally give rise to ghost stories.
Here in my backyard, which is also known as the Quaboag Plantation in New England, it seems spirits find it so peaceful they come to rest and not linger on this plane, or do they? You be the judge.
It was a beautiful and elegant hotel in its day when it sat perched on the corner of Grove and Common Streets in Barre, Massachusetts. In 1980, artist, Frank Bly, captured the Barre Hotel’s grandeur in a charming winter scene. Ten years later the grand old building had burned to the ground and all that remained were the memories, and according to locals, Bly rendered a new painting of the hotel, but this time it had ghosts and spirits pouring out of its windows. Whether Bly actually saw those specters or interpreted the hotel’s demise in the language of an artist is left to conjecture and imagination.
Other stories of a thought provoking nature that reflect the early days of the Plantation during King Philip’s War provide no evidence of haunting by restless spirits even after the brutal ambush of the original settlers of Foster Hill, or the gruesome tale of William Pritchard’s son, Samuel, who on the same day his father was killed at “Wheeler’s Surprise,” met with his own dark fate - death and beheading. The story of this heinous act, Samuel’s head tossed and kicked about like a football for all to see, including his mother, certainly should provide tales of restless spirits, but none seem to exist, nor are they ever spoken about.
Then there is the Brookfield tale of Bathsheba Ruggles Spooner, the first woman in America to be sentenced to death for her involvement, with that of her young lover and two accomplices, in the beating and murder of her brutish husband, whose body was stuffed down a well in an effort to hide the deed. Spooner pleaded for clemency as she claimed she was pregnant but it was to no avail and she was sent to the gallows, along with her lover and their two accomplices on July 2, 1778. A subsequent autopsy performed on Spooner’s body revealed that she was indeed “quickened” with child, and despite the shocking nature of the story, no haunting prevails.
Another true tale that took place in 1874, the abduction of four-year-old Charley Ross (a Philadelphia Main Line youngster) gave rise to possible haunting stories concerning Charley’s summer home in Brookfield, Massachusetts. The Ross kidnapping/ransom case was the first of its kind to garner national media attention, and on a local level was cause for continuous gossip. The summer vacation residence, which belonged to Charley’s aunt, was a grand, but brooding and dark-looking Victorian home. After Charley’s disappearance, the “Lewis Mansion”, as it was known, suddenly was left abandoned by the family, with all its furnishings and personal belongings intact. It was as if the entire family had simply vanished. Some said the kidnappers had killed Charley and buried his body in the basement of the home. As late as the mid 1940’s, before the property was raised and converted into a recreation park, children often prowled the abandoned house mostly scaring themselves with their own footsteps. Charley Ross was never found; the Lewis family never returned to claim their belongings and no one ever reported seeing a ghost – ever.
In North Brookfield, Massachusetts, just off Slab City Road, sits an enormous dam that was once was the site of Woolcott’s Mill, which was established in 1717 as a sawmill. For years, the mill site carried a stigma of misfortune each time the property changed hands – everything from an owner’s disappearance to an accidental tragic shooting of a child by his brother, and even one poor soul loosing his arm in an industrial accident at the site. In an effort to explain the odd and sometime ghoulish happenings, local residents blamed it on an unknown woman who simply was referred to as “Aunt Hepsie.”
To this day, no one has ever seen or even knows who Aunt Hepsie was and why she was singled out for infamy. So, no ghost there, but indeed an odd series of occurrences, which cannot be explained.
Our last tale concerns the murder of a young bride-to-be, “Elsie,” who was savagely beheaded by her intended on their wedding day. She is said to wander the Evergreen Cemetery in New Braintree, Massachusetts. Folks don’t seem to know her last name, nor where in this slip of land that she is buried, but without doubt, ask any local, and in hushed tones they will talk about the spirit in a diaphanous gown that haunts not on Halloween, but every 18th of April on Paul Revere Day. Writer/artist Stephanie Benoit captured the legend in verse that begins with, “A mournful, fragile vapor rises from Evergreen where spent souls lie, where great stonewalls hold back the darkness that oozes from the woods nearby.” The poem continues with the story and concludes: “Skeptics say it’s purely fiction, Elsie’s ghostly truth denied - ‘A reluctant corpse,’ say the believers, Death’s pointed finger she defied. To romantics it’s just charming folklore, of death embalmed in mystery, and Elsie’s grave and stern decorum is now New Braintree’s history.” I’ve not seen Elsie yet… but I’ll let you know when I do.